Rescuers searched flooded homes for survivors, millions remained without power and drivers lined up for hours to get scarce fuel, three days after the powerful storm Sandy slammed into the US East Coast, killing more than 90 people.
Life was gradually returning to normal in the affected states on Thursday as businesses and public services restarted, but thousands of people were still unable to return to their homes.
New York City's underground trains resumed limited service after being shut down since Sunday but the lower half of Manhattan still lacked power, and surrounding areas such as Staten Island, the New Jersey shore and the city of Hoboken remained crippled from a record storm surge and flooding.
The storm, at one point extending 1,609km in diameter, crippled transport systems along the densely populated coastal region on Monday. Stretching from the Carolinas to Connecticut, it was the largest storm by area to hit the US in decades.
About 4.6 million homes and businesses in 15 states were still without power on Thursday, data from the US Department of Energy showed.
Towns along the New Jersey shore took much of the brunt. Homes were flooded, boardwalks were washed away and gas mains ruptured.
'Debris littering the streets'
A journalist for the TV network NBC, reporting from Toms River in New Jersey, said authorities had begun to clean up the area and make sure it was safe for evacuated residents to return.
"There's still debris littering the streets. Pieces of people's homes, furniture, even boats washed away from the shore."
- Danielle Leigh, NBC
"There's still debris littering the streets," said Danielle Leigh. "Pieces of people's homes, furniture, even boats washed away from the shore.
"They're clearing the roads that are unpassable, also doing something about homes ripped from their foundations.
"Right now, those whole communities are entirely cut off. Officials will not let anybody in because they say it is unsafe. Many people are anxious to get back and see what's left of their homes."
New Jersey power company Public Service Enterprise Group Inc (PSEG) said it would take seven to 10 days to restore power to all its customers after the tidal surge from Sandy badly damaged the electric transmission system and some switching stations.
Al Jazeera's Kristen Saloomey, reporting from New York City, said the situation there was "slowly improving", but that movement of people to and from work was still significantly disrupted.
"Getting around town is extremely difficult," she said. "Some subway services have been restored, buses are back on schedule but some tunnels into the city remain closed."
Power outages and lack of supply from shut terminals and ports have severely hampered distribution petrol in northern New Jersey and New York.
Al Jazeera's John Terrett, reporting from Egg Harbor, New Jersey, said residents there had been "panic buying" goods and fuel ahead of the storm.
|John Terrett reports how Atlantic City is reeling from Sandy
"Many of the petrol stations ran out," he said. "Now, many of those pumps don't have any fuel and of course delivery is very difficult under the circumstances.
"Also, much of the petrol in the US is pumped electronically, so when power is out, as it is in huge swaths of the state right now, you can't get the fuel from the tank into the cars."
Sandy started as a late-season hurricane in the Caribbean, where it killed 69 people, before smashing ashore in the US.
North American deaths from Sandy rose to at least 97 on Thursday as deaths reported in New York City jumped substantially.
Authorities have warned the numbers are subject to change and could go up or down, as rescuers search house-to-house through coastal towns. A decrease may occur if the cause of death is later deemed not to be a direct result on the storm.
President Barack Obama has visited areas hit by the storm and is now back on the campaign trail, with just five days to go before the elections.